Science now supports a fun and easy way to boost cognitive function, connect mind and heart, and break up old traumas held in the body, while supporting your blood, digestion, and immunity.
It’s an ancient practice called brahmari pranayama that releases nitric oxide lying dormant in our nasal passages. I’ll unpack each of these fascinating elements below!
Nitric Oxide: The Panacea Molecule
In 1998, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was given to researchers who discovered the “panacea molecule” effect of nitric oxide (NO).1
The greatest amount of NO in the body was found to be produced during nose breathing (and not produced during mouth breathing).2
In Ayurveda, there are many breathing exercises, called pranayama, that employ nose breathing for therapeutic effect. Based on the production of nitric oxide during nose breathing, it is reasonable to assume that much of the pranayama benefit could be ascribed to increased production of nitric oxide.
Humming, as practiced during brahmari or “humming bee” pranayama, increases production of nitric oxide 15x compared to gentle nose breathing.6
Nitric oxide is produced in the paranasal sinuses, so when you breathe through the nose, an abundance of NO is driven to the lungs’ lower lobes, where there is a majority of alveoli and blood for the exchange of oxygen in and waste out. Nasal breathing is engineered to drive NO into the blood-rich lower lobes of the lungs and then to the bloodstream for every cell of the body.
Nitric oxide has been found to act as an anti-inflammatory, hormonal, antiseptic, and repair agent for the entire respiratory tract, bloodstream, digestion, and delicate lung tissues.3, 4 NO plays a plethora of roles essential for optimal health.1, 5
Nitric Oxide Benefits
- Regulates vascular tone and blood flow
- Delivers oxygen to the mitochondria for energy production
- Supports healthy blood viscosity
- Supports healthy arterial lining, preventing cardiovascular disease
- Generates antioxidants for repair, like SOD (superoxide dismutase)
- Supports healthy blood sugar and better insulin sensitivity
- Lowers BMI (Body Mass Index)
- Regulates brain blood flow and neural plasticity
- Supports cellular immunity
- Regulates and lowers blood pressure
- Regulates gastric motility
- Supports healthy endothelium (blood vessel lining)
Additional Benefits of Brahmari Humming Bee Pranayama
Increases Gamma Wave (Spiritual) Activity in the Brain
Gamma brainwaves are seen in states of universal love, altruism, and higher virtues. Gamma is above the frequency of neuronal firing, so how it is generated remains a mystery. It is speculated that gamma rhythms modulate perception and consciousness, and that a greater presence of gamma relates to expanded consciousness and spirituality.
It was further concluded that regular practice of brahmari would cause waves to remain for several minutes after the practice is finished. Studies suggest that 10 minutes of brahmari practice boosts cognitive function.7
According to Ayurveda, brahmari is designed to create a vibration in the skull/brain and chest/heart and connect the two. It is understood that to experience mental, emotional, and spiritual benefit, we must learn to stop thinking (from the mind) and start feeling (from the heart). This technique creates a resonance of thought and feeling. By adjusting the humming pitch, you can create powerful connections between heart and mind.
Vibration during humming is not only known to increase NO production but, according to Ayurveda, moves congested brain lymph from the transverse and sagittal sinuses (called tarpaka kapha). Congestion here is linked to suppression of mental and emotional trauma. Brahmari is a tool to help break up mental ama in tarpaka kapha, or the brain lymphatics.
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A study found brahmari pranayama notably reduces depression, irritability, and anxiety associated with tinnitus.7
One study evaluated the immediate effect of brahmari pranayama on heart rate and blood pressure among 50 healthy adults. After practicing for 5 minutes, they noted a slight decrease (2–3 beats) in heart rate and significant decrease of blood pressure (5–6 mm Hg).7
How to Practice Brahmari Pranayama
- Sit comfortably with an empty stomach in a relaxed position with back straight. With your thumbs, close both ears. With your index and middle fingers, cover your closed eyes with light pressure.
- Inhale slowly and deeply with ujjayi pranayama (constricting the back of the throat, aka Darth Vader Breath).
- Exhale fully while humming (still with eyes closed and ears plugged).
- Adjust humming pitch to create a resonance vibration between head and heart/chest.
- Continue for 10 minutes. This can be done before or after meditation or as a standalone practice.